Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Roundup of the Cities with the Cleanest and Most Polluted Air in America

(As the year draws to an end, we thought it might be an appropriate time to share Emily Folk's latest post, below, looking at the cities with the cleanest and most polluted air. We love her optimism about Fresno!)

It's no secret that some cities in America have better air quality than others. There are plenty of factors that go into a city's air quality — pollution, altitude, the average amount of wind, and proximity to the ocean can all affect how clean you're breathing in and around the city's area. Size and distribution of people in and around the urban area also play a huge role in a city's air cleanliness.

For our reference, the America Lung Association releases a "State of the Air" review every year. This report measures each city across America for its air quality, in particular, measuring ozone and particle pollution in the metropolitan areas. Ozone manifests as factory and vehicle smog, while particle pollution is a thicker, sootier variety of pollution. (For a little more technical description, see here: smog, soot and other widespread pollutants ) Both are serious concerns for the health of those living in the area long-term.
Today we’re going to look at the best — and worst — cities for air quality around the states. Away we go!
Best Cities:
The following cities fell within the threshold for healthy, breathable air in both categories year-round. Given this, there is no particular order to the listing, as each of these cities should be perfectly breathable at any given point in the year. Though there are several other cities and urban areas that fall into this category, we chose three examples of cities from different regions in the U.S.
  1. Burlington, Vermont
The largest city in Vermont has become a hotspot for young settlers in the past decade. Like many of the cities attracting the Millennial crowd, Burlington openly advocates for clean and sustainable living.

  1. Honolulu, Hawaii
Not only is this beautiful and historical Hawaiian city a hugely popular tourist destination; it is also lauded for its clean beaches and crystal-clear air. Fresh breezes from the Pacific keep the entire island well-ventilated, and an avoidance of factory clutter prevent traditional pollution from overtaking the small area.’

  1. Wilmington, North Carolina
Further down the East Coast, Wilmington appears on the list for the first time in the eighteen years of the ALA's list. Topping the list is a considerable achievement, especially since Wilmington is a port town, which are typically amongst the worst-polluted in the country. Some attribute the ranking to clean air initiatives all across North Carolina.
Worst Cities
To preface the worst-polluted cities, it is important to understand that California dominates the entire list. Of the 15 cities listed across the three categories, California holds 13 spots. Again, location has a lot to do with the how much pollution accumulates in an area: California is renowned for its smog in and around the coast. Beyond just that, though, California has seen a terrible drought this year, drying up much of its natural flora which generally filters the air.
The three categories for air pollution are ozone (smog) pollution, as well as year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution (soot). I’ve listed the worst city from each category, barring any redundancies. 
  1. Los Angeles, California (Ozone)
Nobody should be too surprised by Los Angeles topping this list. The city is a standby for lists of most-polluted cities in the U.S., and the terrible summer drought made its 1st place all but assured. Smog collects in and around the coastal valley landscape of the city.

  1. Fresno-Madera, California (year-round soot)
Pollution has always been an issue for California’s Central Valley, and no more so than in Fresno. Industrial areas, tracts of land crosshatched with freeways and factories give rise to choking diesel fumes and sooty factory output. The lack of wind movement means the area remains mired in particulate year-round. 

  1. Bakersfield, California (short-term soot)
Another city located in the central valley, Bakersfield faces many of the same issues as Fresno. This city ranks 2nd on the list for worst particulate year-round but edges out Fresno for the #1 spot in short-term spikes. Regardless, cities in this area of California face some of the most oppressive air conditions in the states.
Improving Air Quality
Now that we’ve seen the best and the worst pollution locations in America, the question turns to what takeaways we can glean from the best cities, and how to apply them to the worst. After all, everyone wants cleaner air. In some cases — as with cities like Burlington — the improvements are all in the demand of the locals. Drawing a younger, more sustainability-minded crowd to the city can inspire major changes in a city’s air quality.
In the case of Wilmington, the state government unleashed an initiative to actively clean up the factory output, rocketing the city to a new and cherished spot at the top of the list. This, too, can be applied to those cities in the industrial belt of California’s Central Valley. 
Finally, the tourism of Honolulu keeps the city clean. While Fresno seems an unlikely tourist destination shortly, lowering its industrial smog levels could eventually change this. If the Central Valley begins attracting visitors and the attached revenue, huge improvements follow.

Emily Folk is a freelance writer and blogger, covering topics in conservation, sustainability and renewable energy. To see her latest posts, check out her blog Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter!

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